& Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

The Book Itself: It’s an interesting choice of cover…the red border, the honeybee, the vintage-style woman’s portrait. I’m not sure how it all pertains to the story, or how it all comes together logistically as a cover, but I do like the title!

My Review: In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

Working with a former homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby races against time and reason to unravel an impossible mystery.

I am a great big wimp. Have I mentioned this before? I cannot abide anything scary. No horror flicks for me! When I’m home alone, all the lights are on and the TV is on loud enough that I can hear it in the other room. It’s a product of my vivid imagination. As soon as the twig snaps, I’m thinking about what kind of vicious animal or psychopathic serial killer it could be.

It doesn’t help that I enjoy watching crime shows. My mom and I love watching Criminal Minds because the characters solving the crimes are so complex and likable (Garcia! Reed!). I just started season 3 of Supernatural (great, now instead of a serial killer outside my window I’ll think it’s a shapeshifter or vengeful spirit…). And what I like about most of these crime shows is the backstory – bad guys included. In Criminal Minds, you have people with backgrounds so tragic and heartbreaking that you understand (to a certain extent) why they don’t exactly deal with obstacles or daily life in a constructive way.

What I’m trying to slow-walk my way to saying is that it can be interesting to get into a flawed character’s head. And time-traveling serial killer is about as flawed as you can get.

What an interesting concept though. A house whose door opens into any time in the last century, on the same block happens to fall into the hands of a psychopath who uses it to kill women. The house seems innocent. Its resident is not. But the line blurs here: is the house telling him to kill these “shining girls,” or is he so sick that he hallucinates the trophies he must take from them, convincing himself it is the only way to keep himself satisfied? There is a room in this house where Harper sees the items he takes from each girl nearly glowing in the dark. He can pinpoint which girl is next because her item glows brightest. But is it the magical, time-traveling properties of the house? Or is it all in Harper’s sick mind? I like that you didn’t know. The fuzzy line of blame sets the scene for a complex character and mystery.

Harper’s motivation for killing is a new one. He kills girls who seem to have the most potential.  They “shine” with fiercer personalities, and bigger dreams. They are specific – he stalks them through time, popping up at various times in their lives to make sure that potential is still there, and hi kills them when their potential is brightest, or when their potential starts to fall. It’s an interesting motivation. The concept of the girls “shining” fits in with the hallucinatory theme of the house and the items that lead Harper to kill. His motivation isn’t that he had a terrible childhood or he seeks vengeance for a wrongdoing in his past. He is evil for the sake of it, but he also cannot help it; the book is very good at building the idea that Harper cannot stop himself. This is just how he is.

But enough about our creepy friend Harper. Our protagonist, Kirby, is the One That Got Away. She survived Harper’s attack, and has scars both physically and emotionally to prove it. Understandably, she is dogged in her pursuit of the man who killed her. And when impossible parallels begin to appear (a baseball card of a player not yet in the Major Leagues is found on one of the women’s bodies), her focus becomes almost maniacal. She is also flawed, and her single-minded quest seems like an obsession similar to Harper’s. She doesn’t become a serial killer for her obsession, but the concept is interesting. Her encounter with Harper almost infects her, and that is an interesting dynamic for the book to explore.

The story itself is well-written and well-paced. Dan, the reporter Kirby aligns herself with, also gets a couple chapters told from his point of view, and he is a welcome change: observing the single-mindedness of Kirby and later, Harper. The plot could have used some more falling action, but the story sucked me in and didn’t let me go until the bitter end. I enjoyed the psychology of it and the touch of science fiction. A great read. Just don’t go walking past that row of creepy-looking houses on your way home…

My Grade: B+

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